London: An Indian-origin scientist-led team has discovered a radical way of knocking out cancer cells and leaving healthy ones unharmed, a key finding they claim could pave the way for new treatments for the most aggressive forms of the disease such as pancreatic or breast cancer.
Dr Srinivasan Madhusudan and colleagues at the University of Nottingham has found that blocking an enzyme, which repairs genetic material in cells, enabled them to kill cancer cells containing faulty genes -- in fact, they focused on inherited cancer-causing genes known as BRCA1 and BRCA2.
These two genes cause up to 10 per cent of breast cancers which are more often fatal than non-genetic tumours.
In their research, the scientists found that blocking a cell repair enzyme called APE1 with special molecules they had developed stopped two repair routes at once.
The discovery enabled them to kill BRCA cells, which normally multiply out of control because they have a faulty "repair kit", allowing damaged cells to accumulate faults. The molecules were tested on breast, pancreatic and cervical cancer cells, the `Daily Express` reported.
"This study provides the first evidence that APE1 is an important new target. Not only could these molecules provide a basis for new drugs but they could help `soften up` cells from many cancer types to boost the effect of radiotherapy and chemotherapy," Dr Madhusudan said.
Traditional cancer treatments kill affected cells by damaging their DNA, so repair inhibitors based on the new techniques are vital in the battle to wipe them out more effectively. Drugs called PARP inhibitors already use this approach by stopping the PARP protein, which is part of the DNA "emergency repair kit" in a cell.
Delyth Morgan, head of the Breast Cancer Campaign, which part-funded the research, said: "Currently there are limited options available to patients and this potential new treatment could provide a real lifeline and a better chance of survival, which can only be good news."